Jacob may be small on budget but it is large on ambition. It may overreach at times, not always attaining its lofty goals, but while countless independent filmmakers aim only to create yet another “’80s-style” Slasher movie or riff on the well-trodden Texas Chainsaw Massacre motif, Jacob tries for something else, something that goes beyond the sadly low expectations we viewers have afforded independent Slasher films. In this, Jacob succeeds, proving that Slashers need not be all about and only about the kills.
Jacob has been compared to DePalma’s Carrie, to Frankenstein, and to Of Mice and Men. These comparisons are all apt. The film revolves around the Kell family, Jacob, Missy and their young mother, Edith. The kids’ father, Lawrence, was killed under strange circumstances, which has led to the family being ostracized from the community, and to Edith taking up with the only man who would accept her and her tainted children, the brutish Otis.
As in Carrie, the violence that dominates Jacob’s third act seems, in retrospect, inevitable. Jacob is a disturbed teenager of gargantuan proportions. He hears voices of a possibly supernatural source, voices that bring out in him what appears to be an innate brutality. Only his little sister, Sissy, can cut through those dark voices, keeping a tenuous leash on his inner monster.
It is no real surprise then, when Otis causes Sissy’s death and, in so doing, sets Jacob loose. And the town rises up, pitchforks and torches here replaced with shotguns and baseball bats (including one, dubbed ‘Slugger’, with a circular-saw blade embedded in its fat end). As with James Whale’s classic, it isn’t clear here who the monster truly is. Jacob is as much victim as aggressor.
I would also compare Jacob to other, more recent films like Grace (review), Carriers, Monsters (review), and, within the Slasher film type, Baby Blues (review). These films all strove to take their respective sub-genres in a more intimate, character-driven direction. The above-mentioned films knew to deemphasize the source of horror, to focus on the characters and relationships, thereby making their films all the more terrifying. Jacob does the same, blending Slasher horror with the all too real horrors of domestic abuse and social isolation.
Jacob does have its weaknesses. The acting is occasionally over-the-top, sometimes dangerously close to unintentionally funny. The director, Larry Wade Carrell, would have done well to have his actors pull back a little, and that goes for his own performance as well (Carrell plays both Otis and his cop brother Billy). Too little acting may risk coming off flat but, in a movie as largely serious as Jacob, flat acting will draw less attention to itself than will overacting. This, it should be noted, does not apply to the performances of Dylan Horne and Grace Powell, Jacob and Sissy, respectively; both actors do a fantastic job.
In fact, I would have liked to have seen more of Jacob and Sissy and maybe a little less of Otis. A scene of Otis getting obnoxiously drunk is a tad long, whereas interactions between Jacob and Sissy are all too brief. Otis is not a complicated man; he is easily defined. The relationship between Jacob and his precocious sister, however, seems tantalizingly complex. I wanted to see more of them—though one could argue that’s as much a strength of the film as it is a weakness.
Technically, Jacob is well directed and beautifully photographed. Cinematographer Stacy Davidson deserves a special mention for giving Jacob the appearance of a much pricier film. One sequence, in which Lawrence Kell, played by Michael Biehn, paints a house he has inherited, working obsessively, compelled by a supernatural force, is especially well crafted. The scene is reminiscent of Kubrick’s The Shining and is expertly shot and edited, imbuing a mundane act of restoration with tension and violence. The scene, the entire movie, looks fantastic.
Now, I’ve made much of the writing, the focus on character, the look, but don’t be fooled: Jacob is still a Slasher film. The kills are great, though, at times, they could have used a less-is-more approach. In one scene, Jacob stomps on a man’s throat, pressing down slowly with his foot. Horne’s body language as he leans forward, the sound of the man’s neck crunching underfoot, would have been enough. Yet the camera cuts to the victim’s ruined throat, lessening the effect somewhat. Overall, though, the blood and gore effects are well done and Jacob is a frighteningly brutal killer, a true killing machine.
Still, for me, the kills proved secondary. In the end, Jacob is about more than torn limbs and broken necks. Carrell, as writer and director, clearly wasn’t satisfied with making “just another Slasher film,” and for that he should be applauded and supported. Jacob is the kind of Slasher film of which we need more, it is the kind of Slasher film we should support, and it is the kind of Slasher film we should demand. There is no reason why Slasher films cannot have a little depth, a little complexity, a little heart. Jacob proves it.
Note: Jacob will be playing at the Montreal HorrorFest, part of the Montreal ComicCon, at 5:30 on Saturday, September 15, 2012. Larry Wade Carrell, Grace Powell, and Dylan Horne will be in attendance.
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